Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks enter the cauldron

Team will need to harness all their energy and composure if they are to win at the high altar of Springbok rugby.

Sam Cane, right,  is congratulated by  Ma'a Nonu and Aaron Cruden after scoring the second try  against Argentina yesterday. Photo / Getty Images
Sam Cane, right, is congratulated by Ma'a Nonu and Aaron Cruden after scoring the second try against Argentina yesterday. Photo / Getty Images

Ellis Park will be La Plata with an extra layer of ferocity and perhaps villainy.

An All Black visit to the high altar of Springbok rugby and their greatest modern triumph in the 1995 World Cup final is like no other rugby probe.

It boils the blood as garnishes to the layers of intensity and intimidation which will accompany Sunday's Rugby Championship decider in Johannesburg.

The Springboks can recover at home and are comfortable with the demands of high veld rugby although they have problems with lock Flip van der Merwe in the dock this week for a high elbow jolt.

Since isolation, the Boks have beaten the All Blacks in four of their six contests at Ellis Park although their last duel there was in 2004.

The All Blacks have to travel through several time zones before they reach Johannesburg to acclimatise for their title shot. They answered all but the scrum assault from the Pumas but that inquiry will not be as marked against South Africa.

Worries will be that tighthead prop Owen Franks has a groin problem, Ma'a Nonu a tender fetlock while Richie McCaw is no definite starter.

Spectator turmoil at Ellis Park will boost the Boks if they get an early edge. Assaults on the All Black bus will occur as it edges through the last few twists on its journey to its parking bay inside the ground.

Nelson Mandela has not been well for months but it would be no surprise if a fervent message from him is broadcast through the ground's PA system to the Boks and the 62,000 sellout crowd.

The All Blacks have to harness all that energy, remain true to the ethos which has marked their work since the last World Cup and believe in the plan they will take to the ground.

They must also trust referee Nigel Owens, his assistants and the TMO to deal with any judicial indiscretions.

It is a tough line because if the All Blacks react or retaliate too strongly they will be punished.

The All Blacks are not saints but have eliminated much of the rubbish because of their style and the consequences. No side plays the game more directly than the Boks but that abrasive approach comes with judicial risks.

Their idea of deception is to run into someone, they favour the straightest path to the tryline. When they get in tune, it is mighty effective and with Morne Steyn ticking over the points with his goal kicking, it is a patented Springbok formula.

In second-half glimpses when they had the ball, the Wallabies showed how close interplay could flummox the Bok defence and there were anxious words from captain Jean de Villiers.

"I don't think I've ever been so disappointed at beating the Aussies by 20 points, we didn't play well," he said.

His side's discipline needed an overhaul and he mentioned how further offences would cost the Springboks. They should have embarrassed the Wallabies, who missed 31 tackles, conceded 26 turnovers, made 10 handling errors and had a poor scrum.

Difficulties at Cape Town and La Plata will mean nothing when the All Blacks and Springboks meet in Doornfontein on Sunday.

Both teams need to adopt the Latin saying of "mens sana in corpore sano" or sound minds in healthy bodies after their unfulfilling opening clash at Eden Park.

The decider
*The All Blacks need just one bonus point to claim their second Rugby Championship.
*South Africa need to win with a bonus point while also denying the All Blacks a bonus point.

- NZ Herald

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